I hand you my heart
Nimbus cloud pregnant;
Giving birth to a Universe
With each heavenly tear.
I hand you my heart
Nimbus cloud pregnant;
Giving birth to a Universe
With each heavenly tear.
opens her face to the Sun;
dares to dazzle,
has no fear.
When the rain comes
melting her pretty petals
fall: worthy remains
feed the garden of her blessed beginning.
Tammy Wynette was one of my mother’s favorites when I was a young child. She played this song many times. It opened my heart to fire of God burning in my belly every time I heard it. So, here’s to you mom.
The next day we waited in the hall outside the intensive care unit until everyone arrived. Once all four of us were there we took turns visiting mother. Each of us saying what we needed to in private. When my turn came all I could say was,”Mom, thank you for giving me life,” which I meant. Sheri spent alot of time talking about mom’s wisdom and love. All the things she’d learned from her. Try as I might, I could think of nothing wise or loving I’d learned from my mother. In fact, one of many things mom frequently complained about to my siblings in regards to how she felt about me, and why, was how upsetting it was to her that I never went to her for advice, help, or direction.
As a small child I felt an innate lack of trust in her. Couldn’t handle being patronized and lied to which she did often. Like Snow White’s evil stepmother she went to great lengths to lure me in but unlike Snow White, I didn’t take the bait. Took to fits of rage when she would try to pull the wool over my eyes. Once tipping over my dresser to make my point. A story she told many times, always leaving her part out, she used what I did as evidence to prove my insanity. Discredit my experience and feelings. Hide her behavior.
Years later, after I’d left home, married and had my first child, I fell in love with a man who wasn’t my husband. I went to my mother for direction. I still wonder how she’d finally put me to sleep, why I thought she would help or comfort me. When I arrived at her house we took a ride in my car. I proceeded to open my heart fully to her. Sparing nothing I poured my feelings into her hollowed out bosom. There was no tenderness, compassion, or wisdom in her response. She started off with, Oh sure, when you were in good standing with your almighty church, [I'd been excommunicated for adultery], you were too good for us, but now that your life is falling apart you come running to us for help. With me, mother always spoke as if she and my siblings were a unit that I was outside of. Her mean-spirited snarling words were the poisonous kiss that awakened me. Reminded me of the truth between her and I.
When I was fourteen years old I met my huntsman. A man who rescued me by marrying me when I was seventeen years old. Instead of the cozy cottage of the seven dwarfs, my refuge, became the Mormon Church. Rather than being proud of me, or at the very least attempting to understand and support my desire to climb out of the godless violence, poverty and alcoholism of our family by seeking God, Love, safety and community through my church, she punished me for it by accusing me of becoming arrogant because I chose not to spend much time around them. Also wouldn’t allow them to drink and smoke in my home. Spend time with my children when they were drinking and drugging which was all the time. My parents and siblings took vacations had parties and dinners without inviting me and my family. Truthfully I would not have gone and they knew that. At that time I didn’t drink or drug. Nor could I stand the fighting that almost always went on. Much of it physical.
The second and last time I went to my mother for help was several years later. I’d succumbed to addiction. Been arrested for writing my own prescriptions for tranquilizers. I called my mother to bail me out, promising to pay her back the next day which I fully intended to do. Even though she’d bailed my brothers and sisters out many times, in many ways including jail, that she’d never bailed me out of anything, she said no.Weeks later when the probation department called her to see if she felt I was a safe candidate for probation or if she felt it best that I be sent to jail for five years, she told them that locking me up was the best option.
When I finally came in front of the judge he took pity on me. I had no prior offenses of any kind, honestly had no idea that what I’d done was such a big deal [a felony]. The officer who’d done my pre-probation investigation and report came to me in private, said he thought I should read it. He’d talked to several different people including friends, lovers, employers and the doctor I stole the script pad from. All of which said probation was enough. I was touched and surprised to read their understanding and compassionate reports about me. When I got to my mothers appraisal the shock was no less of a jolt than a hit from a stun gun. There was nothing good in her report. She basically said I was useless, worthless. Then added that I’d always thought I deserved more than everyone else. And in regards to the aspirations of those in my family, she was telling the truth.
Next came the meeting to determine what should be done with mom. Her breathing and feeding were being supported, she was still in a coma. Three doctors one nurse and the four of us kids filed into a room with a large conference table. Each of them gave us their prognosis. Basically it was the same except that they wanted to put her on full life support. My mom was clear on this matter. Had a DNR order in place.
It’d been just over forty-eight hours since her fall. I wondered if we should give her some time before we pulled the plug. Didn’t speak up because I was unwilling to be responsible for her care. Mother didn’t help those who cared for her to do so, but instead commanded us to do what she wanted. She used guilt and fear to scare us into doing it exactly the way she wanted it done. Just the way she’d done all our lives. Ron spoke up first, “Mom wouldn’t want this.” Vicki turned to Sheri who responded, but my hearing seemed to fade, like someone turned down the volume of the situation, so I don’t recall what she said. Then Vicki, very much the acting matron of our family in many ways, for most of her life, looked at me. I think I shook my head yes. Relieved to not be alone with such a ponderous decision Vicki agreed. The last order of the business of mom’s life was if we wanted them to make her comfortable with morphine, to which there was a resounding Yes.
To be continued very soon…
After I posted yesterday grief, heavy as a dead body gripped my heart. Then came the choking fear, it’s gnarly fingers around my throat, warning that if I continued to speak, my life would be ruined. This morning I came across these words I’d copied into my journal a while ago. Onward…
… you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony
be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important
and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten
let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards–they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography
and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn
beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called–weren’t there better ones than I …
~ Zbigniew Herbert
I had been forewarned, by whom I still do not know, but they were kind enough to give me the chance to do things differently. My youngest brother Cody, aka, The Codeman, spent the better part of his life struggling to overcome drug addiction. He and I were always close. More so than I actually realized, after he died.
There was distance between us. I would like to say that it was because his repeated jackpots in the way of car crashes, overdoses, institutions and the like, had tired me to such a point I cut him loose; but that would be a lie. You see I too was struggling with addiction and had cut myself loose from any and all things that got in the way of my using. My brother was one of those things.
Until he was five years old he called me mommy. I’m not sure why, perhaps I had encouraged him to do so. I was always playing house and many times he was there too; playing at being one of my children. I can still see his wide, sky blue eyes, thickest curliest eyelashes I have ever seen. He even endured my putting mascara on him. Oh how I loved those beautiful bewildered eyes. Born three months early it took him years to grow into his age. He was tiny and somewhat frail. Even when I wasn’t playing house, in many of the photographs from that time, he is on my lap. My arm wrapped around him protectively.
I was riding my bike when I heard the voice whisper into my minds ear. Clear as someone standing right next to me I heard, Cody is going to die soon. Stunned, by the messenger, the message, the mystery of what was happening, I burst into tears. In my heart, it was if I had just been told he was already dead. I knew what I’d heard was truth.
At that time in my life, real and intense feeling broke through the everyday gray haze, like a sudden and unexpected lightning storm. Always acute and moving through very quickly. After the storm of emotional electricity passed, I rode my bike back to my car to head home. When I started up the engine the radio was blaring and the first song that played was Sara McLaughlin, Angel. Again came the voice, whispering into the ear of my heart, Play this song at Cody’s funeral.
Sadly I did not call my brother to say I love you. To plead with him not to die. I made no effort what so ever to spend precious time with him. Almost unbelievably, what happened that day vanished from my memory.
When the phone rang that News Years morning though, it all came back. Before I picked up the receiver I knew that my brother was dead. A bolt of grief melted me on the spot.
The next year was heavy with regret. Our [mine and Cody's], life came back like flash floods. Our broken childhood, the pain, the loneliness of it all. I couldn’t remember what his face looked like. Could not recall the sound of his voice. Secretly I begged for his forgiveness everyday. Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was responsible for his death. That I could have prevented it.
The following New Years Eve when I went to bed I said, out-loud, “Cody, where are you? Where did you go when you died?” I fell asleep crying.
The next morning when I got up to take my dogs for their walk I couldn’t take our usual route. We were having a January thaw and there was no way to cross the brook behind my house. We’d gotten a skiff of snow in the night. As I plodded through the neighborhood to get to the next cutoff into the woods where we normally walked, I noticed that someone had stomped out a picture of a spaceship on the road. It looked like something drawn on an etch-a-sketch. The feet were small like a child’s. Not wanting to mess up their art I steered my dogs around the six-foot skyship. Something prompted me to look back after I’d already passed and suddenly I saw it! His name, C-O-D-Y written with the same small feet, like a signature on a piece of fine art.
I was so shocked, scared even, that I gasped. Fearing no one would believe me, I abandoned the idea of a walk and dragged my anxious dogs back to the house; hollering for my husband. ” Come quick! You’re not gunna believe this. Hurry!
I don’t know if there was a boy named Cody living in our neighborhood. And if there was, I have no idea what or who inspired him to create that starship, on that corner, on that day. What I do know is that my brother loves me. That he knows and understands all the things I do not, about why it had to be the way it was between us in the end.
The question of whether there is Life beyond death has always haunted me. Like something I remember, even though I have forgotten it. Because of my beloved brothers death, I now know, in the deepest fibers of my being, that Life does go on.
In my original family the topic of death is like a finger on the trigger. Whenever a difficult subject or feeling comes to the surface it’s swiftly silenced by the threat of death. What I mean to say is that someone is always talking about their dying. Subtly insinuating that it could happen at any moment. This is not because they accept it as being a part of life, but rather as a way of keeping you from pursuing a problem they refuse to deal with. Implying that the only thing that’s important, worthy even, is keeping things comfortable. That way when sudden death occurs, no one will feel guilty. Least of all them.
My father died of lung cancer when he was only fifty-two years old. No time to clear things up between us. The diagnosis came and not long afterwards he was dead. I took comfort in knowing the soul of my father was finally free of the torment he endured during his short stint on the planet. Of course, the expectation was that the proper thing to do was to show up to the funeral. Which I chose not to do. Being there I was told, was for my mother’s sake. To support her in her grief, which was really relief. She hated my father. Did her absolute best to discredit everything about him while he was alive.
The last time I saw my father was about a month before he died. I drove from Utah to California, straight through, after my mother called to say if I wanted to see him before he died I better come. When I walked in their house she was half in the bag as usual. In the kitchen dutifully making dinner. I asked her where he was and she pointed toward the back porch.
He was sitting in his chair, legs crossed, cheap reading glasses sat lopsided on his jaundice looking face. A few tufts of hair randomly clinging to his scalp. Holocaust survivor gaunt, he looked scared. My father and I had a tortured relationship. I was terrified of him. I also identified with and adored him.When I knelt down in front of him he took my hands in his. As we looked deeply into each others brown eyes [something only the two of us had in common], I experienced his heavy sorrow. Tears streamed down our cheeks as we fell into the love we had for each other. “It’s ok dad,” was all I had the chance to say, when like a bullet tearing through the atmosphere, my moms shrill voice rang out! When I went to the kitchen to see what the problem was, she started to rant about how offended she was by what had happened between me and my dad. What about me she shrieked! That son of bitch and his crazy goddamn mother ruined my life! Without saying goodbye to my father, I grabbed my purse off the table and drove back to Utah.
The father’s day after my father died, I was standing in the card section of the local drug store looking for a card for a friend. I’d read three or four when I realized I was thinking about my father. How I wished I would’ve had the kind of relationship with him that inspired me to find him the perfect card. It was then that I felt a distinct presence. Not something outside myself but inside my heart. I knew it was my father and that he knew what I was thinking, feeling. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I had to leave the store.
A year before my brother died I was riding my bicycle along a bike path when I was suddenly overwhelmed by what I perceived as a voice whispering something into my minds ear. “Your brother is going to die soon.” Deeply shaken I returned to my car. When I started the engine the first song that began to play on the radio was Angel, by Sarah McLaughlin. Again, I heard the voice say,”Play this song at his funeral.”
The night my brother died he called my house. I was between shifts when my son relayed the message and I didn’t take the time to call him back. The next morning when my phone rang I knew that he was dead. The following year on the eve of his death, New Years Eve, I said, out loud, before I fell asleep, “Cody, where are you? Where do people go when they die?” The next morning I got up to take my dogs for their walk. I couldn’t go my usual way as we were in the middle of a January thaw and I couldn’t cross the stream. There was a light skiff of snow on the asphalt. When I cut through the neighborhood to take a different path, I noticed that someone’s boot had stomped out a picture of a space ship on the road. It looked like a picture made with an etch-a-sketch. It was of no real interest to me until I noticed that they had also traced the name CODY next to it. I was so stunned that it brought me to my knees. The first thought I had,was, no one will believe this, so I ran back to my house for my husband, [a witness], and my camera.
Things went down the same way after my brother’s death as they did when my father died. We were there to support mother. It was her son that died. Anything we might be feeling, was in her eminent opinion, secondary to what a mother feels when she loses a child. And yet, the fact that Cody had a son, who had a mother who loved Cody, was way down the scale in comparison. I was appalled by this and spoke out against my mother, her demands, disfigured wishes in regards to who she felt was worthy of considering their grief. Inviting to my brothers funeral. The rest of the group didn’t even want to have a service for him. Had I not intervened, they would have opted to only do what was needed to clean up the mess of my brother. Our shame. I did play “Angel” for the service.
By all the usual standards I failed both my father and my brother when it came to their deaths. I believe at times I am tortured by survivors guilt when it comes to my brother. He suffered from a heroin addiction, had begged me to give him shelter so he wouldn’t have to go back to my mother. I told him no. I loved him but didn’t trust him. Opted to put the welfare of my child and myself first.
At times the fear of death feels as threatening as a gun held to the back of my skull. Especially when I consider some of the things that are still unresolved between me and my kids, my husband. There are days when I give in to this tyrant. Shut us all up inside the lie, that the death of a loved one, is the price I will pay for my freedom.